Sydney Smith

Vinton County’s Sydney Smith goes up for a kill over Wellston’s Emily Kisor last season. Smith returns this year as the Vikings’ top hitter after logging 188 kills last season.

Note: This sports story appears in the Wednesday, Aug. 14 newspaper on Page B1.

McARTHUR — In years past, volleyball hasn’t been the most successful sport at Vinton County.

But 2019 could be the start of a program turnaround after finishing 16-8 and making a Division II sectional final last season.

“These girls have been working really hard and we want to continue building off what we did last season,” Vinton County coach Ashley Graves said. “It was the first time we won a sectional game in a number of years and we finished top three in the TVC which hasn’t happened in a while. Hopefully we can do the same thing this year and go farther.”

This year seems to be the best chance for the Vikings to reach higher with only one senior in Lacy Stapleton graduating.

Although replacing her won’t be easy, Vinton County has three seniors of its own in Josie Hembree (354 digs and 88 kills last season) and Maylea Huff (208 digs, 173 kills, 58 aces, 39 blocks) along with Sydnee Knox who are ready to take the reins.

“Josie and Maylea have the most varsity experiences and they are definitely the leaders of this team,” Graves said. “They’ve gone through the battles and they’ve gone a great job leading this young team that we have.”

After those three seniors, Vinton County is in an interesting position since no juniors are on the team.

The team is rounded out with eight sophomores and a handful of freshmen, led by sophomore setter Cameron Zinn (622 assists, 305 digs, 51 kills, 48 aces) and Sydney Smith (188 kills, 32 digs, 29 blocks).

“We go around Cameron, she runs the offense and gets everyone in position,” Graves said. “She’ll set some for us and she’ll do a bit of hitting as well. We have another sophomore in Mika McFadden who will also do some setting. These sophomores bust their tails to make sure they’re ready and we’ll rely on them a lot.”

Lacy Ward is back as well, following a freshman season consisting of 297 digs, 164 kills and a team-high 90 aces. Meanwhile, Kerrigan Ward returns as libero after leading the team in digs with 374 along with 32 aces.

The Vikings also get a little more height at the net this season with sophomore Zoey Kiefer moving up to varsity.

“She’s the tallest girls on the team and the improvement she’s made since June is unbelievable,” Graves said. “Even just working in open gyms, you can see the progress she has made with her timing and overall ability. She’s greatly improved and hopefully she continues to get better.”

While the TVC still runs through Alexander after sweeping the conference last season, Vinton County is aiming for that crown.

It has the passing ability to contend and the hitting to compliment. Graves says that as long as the serving remains solid, the Vikings have a legitimate chance to contend.

“We have the offense to be a really good team,” Graves said. “But the thing for us is we have to do a better job of making our opponents react to us instead of us reacting to what they’re doing. That’s what hurt us against Unioto in the sectional final last season.

“Our defense has to be there as well and it’s an area we work on everyday. But our offense and hitting is our biggest strength. As long as we improve our passing every day and continue building our team chemistry, I think we’ll be up there in the TVC and beyond.”

Vinton County begins its season Monday in TVC action at Meigs.

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